Saturday, September 19, 2009

Another Field of Dreams

I'm sharing a recent column by my friend Andre Stepankowsky, who is the city editor of the Longview (Washington) Daily News.

Baseball has been front-and-center in the community as Longview and Kelso hosted the Babe Ruth World Series, which ended Friday.

David Story Field became a field of dreams, especially to over-the-hill ballplayers like myself. How inspiring — and nostalgic — to watch these young athletes whacking and throwing balls with speed and power, running bases and fielding positions with savvy and grace, and pulling it off with decorum and youthful good nature.

They represented their communities well.But there is another field of dreams in our community. It came to life on the other side of town twice a week for much of the summer.

Unlike games played on the lush, manicured greenness of Story Field, this baseball took place on the weed-infested and parched diamonds of Seventh Avenue Park.

There were no big, cheering crowds. No concession stands. No scoreboards or PA systems.

Longview’s two Special Olympics softball teams — slow pitch and T-ball — hit the field for practice leading up to the district tournament in Olympia Aug. 1. The teams are made up of players of all ages and a wide range of abilities and disabilities, including those with Down syndrome and, like my son Nicky, autism. They’re coached by Becky Bernhardt, whose been at it for 12 years and loves it so much she says she’d continue doing it even if she had two jobs.

The action takes place in slow motion and can be comical and heart-wrenching at the same time. Batters sometimes run to third base instead of first. Ground balls often roll past fielders lost in thought — or absorbed in a hunt for toads in the turf. Nicky, adept fielder that he is, typically catches any ball hit his way. But then he often holds it aloft, like the torch on the Statue of Liberty, and fails to throw it to the appropriate base.

No, these Olympians bring more to the diamond than skill.

Where the lack speed, they substitute determination.

Where their batting eyes are dull, their will to win is sharp.

Where their throws be weak, their sense of camaraderie is strong.

Skeptical? Go watch them round the bases, limbs and sometimes
tummies flaying in all directions like July 4 sparklers.

Watch how difficult it is for some to learn, and then hear the whoops of triumph when someone finally snags a pop fly or nails a line drive.

Listen to them cheer one another one and try to encourage the less sociable among them, like Nicky. In two seasons, I’ve never heard a player badmouth another.

I’m not one of those commentators who wax eloquent about the symbolic nature of baseball. It is a game, pure and simple. Yet there seems to be something about this game, difficult to play though it be, that reaches out to people with disabilities. A father-and-son “catch” is, after all, also a tossing back and forth of ideas.

Nicky “connects” best with me when I’m hitting grounders and fly balls to him on the banks of Lake Sacajawea.

Baseball surely seems to bring out the best in Longview’s Special Olympians. They try their best, respect one another and their opponents, and play for the simple joy and honor the game brings.

That’s the core of the Olympic spirit, and why that dusty and weedy diamond along Seventh Avenue is a field of dreams, too.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Sojourn at Sitka

For four days last week I whiled and whittled away richly textured and rewarding time in the rustic serenity of Sitka Center just north of Lincoln City.

I say “whittled” because I was in a Japanese Wood Block Printing class. It was taught by a young, nurturing Chinese/English teacher/artist Wuon-Gean Ho. (Her name is pronounced “Win-Gin.”)

Eight students were in Wuon-Gean’s class. Our home was one of Sitka’s woody, airy studios on Cascade Head where Oregon’s Salmon River glides into the Pacific. We varied widely in age, experience, inspiration and ability. I was one of the rookies and it showed.

My ambition got the better of me as I tried to produce a four-color print of the skylight in our Quaker meeting house.

No miraculous masterpiece emerged from my efforts. No matter. My purpose was to learn as much as I could about this demanding, surprising and vivid art form.

As it turned out the challenge of the skylight project took over my experience and prevented me from experimenting as much as I would have liked.

Another time.

Despite, or because of the challenge, I had a grand time. Some of it came in moments of utter complexity-perplexity, not the least of which was remembering that the carver has to shave away the wood block to create nothingness/negative space. Nothing results from doing. Something results from not doing.

How very Zen.

Wuon-Gean, who has studied in wood block printing Japan with a master printmaker, got us started on an abstract single-block piece. Once we had carved away our images we dabbed and washed and scrubbed water, paste and water colors into block surfaces. My carved block, shown at the top, turned out to be more interesting than any of the varied prints it produced. It looks like a comma (or lamb chop) in repose on a cubistic wedge of cheese. To add confusion to the odd associations, I anointed the comma/chop in vivid red.

The other photo of my handiwork shows, starting in lower left and moving counter clockwise, my black-and-white photo of the meeting house skylight, my sketch of it, the tracing of the sketch, which I then transferred via red carbon paper onto four blocks, one for each color (black, mustard, green and blue). The best of several prints is in the upper left hand corner.

The other photos show the interior of the studio and the exterior of Sitka’s office/library building. In the studio shot, that’s Wuon-Gean at work.

I’ll have more to say about my experience at the Cascade Head retreat in another post. For now, I’m still basking in the blessing of my sojourn at Sitka.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bring on the enemy

Somebody at Portland State needs to clue in Viking football coach Jerry Glanville that his team is not an army, the game is not a war, and the other side is not “the enemy.”

A recent Oregonian story notes Glanville’s advice to freshman starters: “….the enemy doesn't care that this is your first college game.”

The world has enough enemies without Glanville creating more for Portland State.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote about Glanville's twisted rhetoric. In that post, I noted at least one PSU grad shared my view and I quoted him at length.

Glanville hasn't changed over time. Sadly, he is typical of the battleground atmosphere that surrounds collegiate football. And here we thought that college might have something to do with being collegial. That includes inter-collegial.

Glanville’s field-marshal posturing is part of the same violent atmosphere in which LeGarrette Blount slugged a Boise State player in the face following the Ducks' season-opener loss.

In collegiate football, a Glanville keeps his “teaching” job, while Blount keeps his “athletic scholarship.” (The only thing Blount should be keeping is a date before the judge on assault charges.)

It’s all part of the misguided, testosterone-fueled, media-hype madness that still dubs the rivalry between UO and OSU “The Civil War.” (Yes, dear Ducks and Beavers, I'm not letting go of this one.)

And here’s the strange part: Our most highly educated citizens, college graduates, buy into the craziness — wallets wide open. Bring on the season tickets, the car pennants, the pom-pons, the logo-laden paraphernalia.

And, at PSU, bring on the enemy! Let the blood flow.

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